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Home > Press > Dow Chemical Awards 'Methane Challenge' Grants to Cardiff and Northwestern Universities

The Dow Chemical Company today announced that Cardiff University and Northwestern University have been awarded research grants which together total over $6.4 million as part of the 2007 Dow Methane Challenge. The challenge was initiated by Dow in March 2007 to identify collaborators and approaches in the area of methane conversion to chemicals. The awards to the teams led by Cardiff and Northwestern mark the culmination of the selection process.

Dow Chemical Awards 'Methane Challenge' Grants to Cardiff and Northwestern Universities

MIDLAND, MI | Posted on January 25th, 2008

Approximately 100 proposals from around the world were received in response to Dow's open solicitation, representing top universities, institutes, and companies. The focus of the challenge was the conversion of methane, the major component of natural gas, to chemical feedstocks. Methane is particularly attractive as a raw material because of the presence of large reserves of natural gas in many parts of the world, but the technology for the conversion of these reserves to chemicals and liquid fuels remains elusive. Dow's goal is to develop technologies to take natural gas and produce the intermediates that form the foundation of today's chemical industry.

The Methane Challenge seeks to discover revolutionary chemical processes. Mastery of methane chemistry would provide a completely new foundation for production of chemicals and liquid fuels, bringing an alternative to petroleum in these applications and enabling the use of plentiful, though often remote, natural gas that today is uneconomical to transport to market. It could also reduce the flaring of gas associated with petroleum production and might even provide a means to upgrade landfill gas.

Methane has resisted the attempts of chemists over the last century to directly react and selectively form other chemicals. Recognizing the need for creative approaches, Dow Chemical took the unusual step of undertaking an open solicitation in an attempt to leave no stone unturned in the quest for innovative concepts. By bringing together its chemists and chemical engineers with the teams led by Cardiff and Northwestern, Dow hopes to develop world- changing technologies.

The Alternative Feedstock Program in Dow's Hydrocarbon and Energy (H&E) Business addresses providing advantaged raw materials for chemical production through a portfolio of opportunities addressing near, intermediate and long- term options. The Methane Challenge is a component of the program and is an example of long-term, innovative discovery research. Other parts of the program address more immediate feedstock issues, such as Dow's recently announced sugarcane-to-polyethylene project in Brazil and research on clean chemical production from coal.

Mauro Gregorio, H&E Alternative Feedstocks global business director, stresses that "the Alternative Feedstock Program is all about innovation and creating possibilities for growth and differentiation. Methane activation holds the promise of bringing an advantaged feedstock position to Dow by reducing capital intensity, allowing growth in multiple geographies and improving Dow's cost position."

The open solicitation for the Methane Challenge was "an opportunity to extend the Dow lab bench and find people with whom we might not routinely have contact," said Charles Kresge, Dow R&D vice president for Basic Plastics & Chemicals/Hydrocarbons & Energy/Licensing. "Methane conversion is one of the most challenging areas in catalysis and we hoped the Methane Challenge would attract the highest caliber of research. Clearly it did, and we are excited by the chance to collaborate with these truly world-class teams."

Proposals were evaluated and the ten finalists were asked to submit detailed, confidential proposals. Consultants hired to judge the proposals selected the teams led by Cardiff and Northwestern. While Cardiff and Northwestern are the homes of the team leaders, both teams have sought expertise outside their university communities and are multi-institutional, multi-disciplinary teams.

"Success in this project has the potential to change the way we manufacture chemical intermediates in a revolutionary way," says Graham Hutchings, leader of the Cardiff team. "The direct oxidation of methane to methanol and other useful products represents the most important remaining grand challenge in catalysis."

"It is remarkable that a molecule as simple and abundant as methane should present such an obstacle to conventional catalytic methodologies," adds Tobin Marks, Northwestern team leader. "Clearly, unconventional, science-based approaches will be required to produce catalysts with the necessary activity and selectivity."

For more information on the individual members of the winning teams, their qualifications and expertise, or for descriptions of the winning proposals and the innovative ways in which they are proposing to convert methane gas, visit Dow's website at


About Dow Chemical Company
Dow is a diversified chemical company that harnesses the power of innovation, science and technology to constantly improve what is essential to human progress. The company offers a broad range of products and services to customers in more than 175 countries, helping them to provide everything from fresh water, food and pharmaceuticals to paints, packaging and personal care products. Built on a commitment to its principles of sustainability, Dow has annual sales of $49 billion and employs 43,000 people worldwide. References to "Dow" or the "Company" mean The Dow Chemical Company and its consolidated subsidiaries unless otherwise expressly noted. To learn more about Dow, visit

About Northwestern University

Founded in 1851, Northwestern University is a private national research institution committed to excellent teaching, innovative research, and the personal and intellectual growth of its students in a diverse academic community. Northwestern combines its teaching and research in a highly collaborative environment that transcends traditional academic boundaries. Home to approximately 8,000 undergraduate and 6,200 graduate/professional students and 2,500 full-time faculty, Northwestern has two campuses. The main campus is located in Evanston, and the Chicago campus is home to the law school, medical school, and portions of the business school and School of Continuing Studies.

Northwestern is a world leader in catalysis, chemistry and materials science and engineering. The university has been at the forefront of catalysis research for more than 60 years and established the first materials science academic department in the world in the 1950s. The Materials Research Center, one of the oldest interdisciplinary research centers in the nation, followed in 1958, and the Center for Catalysis and Surface Science in 1984. Notable research highlights and strengths include the development of world-class inorganic/organometallic routes to catalyst synthesis; innovation in catalyst characterization under challenging reaction conditions; historic expertise in oxidation and polymerization catalysis; and a strong connection to Argonne National Laboratory. Learn more about Northwestern at

About Cardiff University

Cardiff University is recognized in independent government assessments as one of Britain's leading teaching and research universities. It is also ranked as one of the world's top 100 universities by the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES). 2008 marks the 125th anniversary of Cardiff University having been founded by Royal Charter in 1883. Today the university combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. Its breadth of expertise in research and research-led teaching encompasses: the humanities; the natural, physical, health, life and social sciences; engineering and technology; preparation for a wide range of professions; and a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning. Cardiff is a member of the Russell Group of the UK's leading research universities. Visit the university website at

Cardiff School of Chemistry is internationally recognized for research in catalysis. The research covers nanoscience, surface electrochemistry, the synthesis and properties of high surface area, powdered materials, which is of direct industrial relevance, to more fundamental work on surface structure, and the fabrication and imaging of ultra-nanoparticles. Highlights of recent work include atomic resolution imaging of the surface structure of nanoparticles; the synthesis of new types of gold catalysts for environmental protection and pollutant abatement; the use of sunlight for clean fuel (hydrogen) production; and novel, clean routes to oxygenated organic molecules using hydrogen peroxide generated in-situ in the reactor. Visit

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